Durham School of the Arts students remember shop owner killed in explosion

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — As the Durham community focuses on rebuilding following a deadly explosion, they’re also remembering the man who lost his life in Wednesday’s tragedy.

Kong Lee, the owner of coffee shop Kaffeinate, was loved by many in the Bull City.

A gas explosion in downtown Durham injured 25 people and killed Lee, 61.

The coffee shop was near the Durham School of the Arts (DSA).

“He just cared about us at DSA and so many kids would go there before school and it’s crazy that none of us were there,” said Nadia Hudson, a senior at Durham School of the Arts.

Lee owned Kaffeinate, a coffee shop located at the site of the blast on North Duke Street. He was at the shop when a contractor struck a natural gas line. 

Some buildings were evacuated, but according to Durham’s fire chief, Lee did not want to leave the building.

“He was just the sweetest man you could ever meet,” said Robin Hudson.

Hudson and her daughter, Nadia, were regulars at the coffee shop.

“He was so warm and he talked to us, some people called him a mentor to the kids,” said Robin Hudson. “That just means so much to have a place like that for our kids in the community when we’re at work and we know that they’re OK.”

Friday was the first time Nadia Hudson and her mom had seen the shop since the explosion. Nadia Hudson says it was a special place where every DSA student felt at home.

“Sometimes I would come in there and realize that I didn’t even have any money and they would be kind enough to pay for my ham and cheese croissant,” Nadia Hudson said.

Nadia says on Monday, Durham School of the Arts students plan to hold a vigil for Lee before school.

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